Spotlight on the best of British at the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon
Charlotte Purdue and Philip Sesemann produced a pair of eye-catching top-10 performances to win the British marathon titles at the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday.
For Purdue it was a particularly satisfying performance as she dominated the British women’s race from start to finish to place 10th overall, sealing a spot at the 2022 World Championships in pointed style as she took more than two minutes from her personal best.
Sesemann, meanwhile, gave himself 10 out of 10 as he crowned his 29th birthday by placing seventh in the elite men’s race on his marathon debut, just one behind last year’s champion Shura Kitata and ahead of many more fancied British rivals, including 2020 champion Jonny Mellor.
It was an astonishing performance from the former middle-distance runner and junior doctor from Leeds, who’d never run a half marathon before placing fourth at The Vitality Big Half just six weeks ago.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised by Sesemann’s determined focus as he owns a dog called ‘Kipchoge’. Like the Kenyan master, Sesemann seemed undaunted by those around him as he emerged at the head of a 14-strong field of Britons to take the crown in 2:12:58, just missing the 2022 World Championship qualifying mark of 2:11:30.
For her part, Purdue was well inside the Worlds standard with 2:23:26, winning the domestic battle by more than three minutes as she became the third-fastest British woman ever, behind Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi.
The 30-year-old regained the UK crown she won on this course in 2019, and sent a stark message to the British Olympic selectors who had left her out of this year’s Tokyo Games.
“I feel like I did deserve a place, but I put it behind me and focused on today’s race,” she said. “Now I’m going forwards, and all is looking good for next summer and a qualifying time for the Worlds.”
The only slight blemish on a superb day for Purdue was missing her pre-race target of leaping to number two on the UK all-time list ahead of Yamauchi’s 2:23:12.
“I did miss my A-goal,” said Purdue. “My pace dropped a bit, but I carried on and I ground it out.”
She did so with aplomb. Setting off alongside her training partner, Australian super veteran Sinead Diver, she was paced by Eilish McColgan, whose mother, Liz, the 1996 London champion, had started the race.
The 44-year-old Diver finished 10th in the Tokyo Olympic marathon in August and provided a perfect race mate in the early stages. But Purdue soon powered on alone towards her target.
“The last six miles were very tough, with my quads cramping but then I felt good again,” she said. “It was great to execute my plan on the day.”
No one else could get close, but Rose Harvey was the closest, the 29-year-old breaking the 2:30 barrier for the first time as she clocked 2:29:45, an agonising 15 seconds outside the Worlds standard.
Samantha Harrison also smashed her PB, the rising talent finishing third in 2:32:22, almost 20 minutes inside her previous best.
While Purdue fulfilled her favourite tag in the women’s race, Sesemann’s victory was a seismic shock to the men’s. Indeed, Mellor had been hot-tipped to win after his impressive rain-swept victory last year and a personal best of 2:10:05 from Seville 18 months ago.
But the defending champion faded in the second half as Sesemann took it on. For a while the Leeds City athlete looked on course for the Worlds, but the final miles took their toll on the marathon first-timer.
“The last six miles were a death march,” he said. “It was just really difficult to get the pain out of my head. The headwind was really strong and I was just employing damage limitation at a solid pace.
“I am disappointed to miss the World Championship time but it’s my birthday today, so it’s been a 10 out of 10 result for me.
I work in A&E at St James’s Hospital in Leeds and my colleagues have been incredible in supporting me in the build-up,” he added. “Today has been special to share it with my friends, family and colleagues, they have enabled me to reduce my hours and reduce my risk from Covid so I can continue training.
“Now I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and friends, and my girlfriend Jess and my dog, Kipchoge.”
Behind Sesemann, 2017’s shock winner Joshua Griffiths emerged to take second in 2:13:39, with Matthew Leach third Briton in 2:15:31, a personal best for him too.